After returning home to Wanaka last week from a long 7 weeks away things are slowly sinking in from my first Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
It was a great experience and I'm so glad I actually made it to represent my country, myself and my family.
Although things didn't go as I had planned, I know I should be happy with a 4th place finish considering what I had to get through in my disrupted build up.
Fracturing my tibial plateau on the 19th of December was a massive game changer for me. Our planning in my build up took a massive detour with me sitting out 8 weeks of training and racing. On my return to snowboarding in February it left us with 4 weeks training to get back on track before the big race at the Paralympic Games. My injury also left me out of the World Cup circuit so Sochi would be my first and only race of the 2013/2014 winter season. One race, one chance.... no pressure!!!
After getting back on snow things had been shaping up pretty well and I had been making some good progress in my hampered build up, getting back to almost full fitness in time for Sochi.
Spending 9 days in Colorado, 7 days in Big White Canada and 7 days in La Molina, Spain we made the most of what we had available to prepare.
My coach, Adam, and I arrived in Sochi on the 6th of March in time for the Opening Ceremony. This was such massive honour, pulling on the official New Zealand uniform and walking out into a sold out stadium. I still get goose bumps thinking about it! The Russians sure know how to put on a show. It was truly mind blowing.
After settling in at the athlete village it was time to get some training in. A couple of days riding on a small boardercross course got things moving again. It was a bit more like wake boarding on these days as temperatures in the alpine village climbed to the mid teens most days.
Official training on our course was set for the 2 days before racing. The course was actually built really well considering the lack of snow and the temperatures the builders had to work with. I was feeling pretty good and was confident I was on pace with the other top riders.
So with final preparations completed it was finally race day, Friday the 14th March.
First up, pre race inspection of the course. It looked good and I was ready to go. In Para-Snowboard we have a course inspection then a full speed training run prior to racing. This gives you a feel for the snow and course setup.
I wanted to run my training run at close to 100% so I could then push it in racing. A great run down the start straight and into the first berm all good, through a couple of small features and into the second berm. This is where things got pretty nasty. I slightly lost my edge coming out of the second berm into a triple roller section. Being off balance I got the timing wrong and got kicked off the second roller into the third, taking a huge impact at full speed bouncing into berm 3 and came to a rest curled up in extreme pain. The first thing that crossed my mind was that I wouldn't be able to race.... Shit.......
After a few minutes and some attention from medical staff I manage to get back to my feet and make my way to the bottom of the course.
I was met at the bottom by our team physio (Andrew Duff) to see what the damage was. It was clear things weren't good. Right knee, chest, back and hip all in huge pain.
Racing now had a totally new set of obstacles. I had to overcome the pain and get back my mental focus and I had less than an hour to do it.
All I could think about was how Richie McCaw played through the Rugby World Cup final with a broke foot and thought that if he can do it so can I.
It became pretty apparent after my first race run that with my injuries racing was going to be tough. But I never doubted that I could still get on the podium. The USA team rode extremely well and I just couldn't get up there. In an event like this you have to ride 110% to get even close to the podium and it wasn't possible for me physically to ride even close to 100% of what I am capable of.
I was in 4th place after both my first and second run so had nothing to lose in my final and 3rd run. Pushing it as hard as I could I crashed in my last run. Being in 4th place going into my final run it was always going to be podium or crash! I had to settle with 4th place in the end.....oh shit again...
Many of you may not know that after racing I headed to the medical clinic for X-rays on my chest for a suspected fractured sternum and a MRI on my right knee to see what damage had been done.
Fortunately there was no fracture to my sternum, just some rib cartilage damage. However, it was the MRI that surprised everyone. A totally detached Anterior cruciate ligament in my right knee! Although, it has now been confirmed that this is an old injury that I had just aggravated causing pain and swelling.
I am still waiting to find out the long term plan for rehab. Surgery is an option that will put me out of training for 6 to 9 months so I'm not so keen to go down that road if I don't have to.
Some of you may read this blog and think that I am just making up excuses for not winning or even getting on the podium. I was in two minds about posting this blog for that reason.
But I have since realised that there are reasons why things happened like they did not excuses. No one is harder on me than myself. It has taken me 4 weeks since the race to even come close to coming to terms with what happened and I am slowly realising I did what I could on the day with what I had. Its incredible how powerful sport can be. Sport at this level has no room for weakness, you have to be at your very best physically and mentally for every second of the race.
I would like to thank all my sponsors that helped me get me not only to the Sochi Games but who have been supporting every step of my snowboarding career. Without these people and their support none of this would be possible.
Smith Optic NZ
Gillian Hall Trust
Snow Sports NZ
High Performance Sport NZ
Paralympics New Zealand
Watch this space...